Cross-party calls for Government to ensure that ministers can’t approve torture

May 21, 2019

Image of Belhaj giving his apology to the parliament

The Government today faced cross-party calls to explain the existence of a policy allowing Ministers to approve UK action where there is a serious risk it could lead to torture.

David Davis MP was granted an Urgent Question on the policy in Parliament this afternoon, following which MPs including Andrew Mitchell, Nia Griffith, Andy Slaughter, Jamie Stone, Tom Brake and Stewart McDonald expressed grave concerns about the policy.

The policy, revealed today in The Times, suggests Ministers can approve action carrying a serious risk of torture if “the potential benefits justify accepting the risk and legal consequences”. It also makes a provision for Ministers to pre-approve lists of individuals about whom information may be shared despite a serious risk they could face mistreatment.

Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt said in response to the questions that she would review the policy ‘in the coming weeks’, once the Government had received recommendations from the Investigatory Powers Commissioner on changes to the ‘official’ torture policy, known as The Consolidated Guidance.

However, the Secretary of State did not commit to amending the MoD’s policy in the meantime, despite its apparent suggestion that Ministers may take action which could be unlawful. Nor did she commit to an exact timeline for when IPCO’s recommendations would be published by Downing Street.

Sir Adrian’s review was ordered after the Intelligence and Security Committee published a report revealing new details about post-9/11 UK involvement in torture and mistreatment.

MP Andrew Mitchell also pointed out that it has been 323 days since the Government committed to announcing a decision on whether or not to hold an independent judge-led inquiry into British complicity into torture. The Government initially committed to making that decision within 60 days.

Dan Dolan, Deputy Director of Reprieve, said: “The Government should heed the warnings sounded today by MPs across the political spectrum, and urgently deal with the different torture policies that currently seem to be floating around Westminster. Ministers can’t authorise action leading to torture without breaking the law – but this MoD document lets them do just that.”

 

Sam Raphael, Director at The Rendition Project whose FOI request obtained the document, said: “This hitherto secret document authorises Ministers to break international and domestic law on torture. It also allows for officials to draw up torture lists – names of individuals where officials are pre-approved for collusion in their torture. Not only is this clearly illegal, it is against all our democratic values, and will only lead us back down the path of the disastrous ‘War on Terror’ years. The policy must be revoked.”